Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Terrorist Next Door

The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right
© 2004 Daniel Levitas
544 pages


How does the grandson of Jewish immigrants become a leading voice in anti-Semitic movements? The Terrorist Next Door reviews domestic militancy in the United States,  as viewed through the life of Bill Gale, founder of the Posse Comitatus.   Taking its name from an act meant to prevent Federal troops from interfering in civil affairs, the group’s abiding faith was animosity towards a government viewed as corrupt at best, and taken over by alien forces at worst. (“Alien” in this case referring to the Illuminati, Freemasons, Jews, or agents of the One World Government. No one here fears the sneaky Reptilian menace.)  Covering essentially the same kind of reactionary violence as Harvest of Rage, but  with less grace, it doesn't avail much other than to build on biases. Unfortunately, the use of one monstrous man as a lens to view related movements casts an evil light on even the comparatively innocent.

The Posse Comitatus is a fairly vile bunch, a Klan without robes and with less concern with decency.   Gale himself took to the racist politics of the Christian Identity movement – which sees Anglo-Saxons as the true children of Israel, and contemporary Jews as Russian pretenders – fairly early on, but the popular support he built was based on a kind of localism on steroids. The basic government unit of every American state, he maintained, was the county, and its only constitutionally-sanctioned officer the Sheriff.  The sheriff could summon the men of the county as a posse to deal with serious threats to law and order.  Gale’s posse considered itself a self-organizing and constitutionally-sanctioned force in service of the same. Their enemies varied, as Gale was able to build a following beyond his initial band of white supremacists, appealing first to farmers on the road to ruin and then later the burgeoning tax resistance movement. Later still, during the Clinton administration, the comitatus would inspire dozens of self-organized militia movements, all of which viewed the federal government as its chief object of contempt, dread, and hostility. 

Gale’s posse wasn’t merely a right-wing crank group that gathered together to swap bits of foreboding news and complain about what the government was up to;   they were a force in the true sense of the word, applying violence to 'solve' problems. One man with a claim on a farm, for instance, called the group to come to his aid: they  took possession of the place, running off the owner and blockading  the only access road. They also vigorously defended themselves, shooting Federal agents who attempted to subdue them.  Civilian casualties in Federal encounters gone wrong only inflamed passions and spurred on greater activity: after the ideologically-linked Oklahoma City bombing, for instance, militia involvement grew. The same was true after President Clinton introduced the Brady Bill, viewed as  an attempt by the government to disarm the populace.   

Like Harvest of Rage,  The Terrorist Next Door is written as a warning, but whereas Harvest seeks to understand its subjects, Terrorist is content to condemn them and anyone it can connect ever so tangentially to their cause.  Under Levitas' pen, anyone who resists the government, who cries overreach -- especially if they do so from a Christian perspective -- is a racist with a lynching rope in the closet.  The problem with this is that the people covered in this book aren't part of a uniform organization, or ones even like the Comitatus.  For instance, Alabama's chief justice, Roy Moore takes heat here for installing a monument to the ten commandments within his courthouse. As problematic as that is from a constitutional perspective, to smear him as connected to the Christian Identity clan is contemptible.  Even those with actual connections to Gale's group weren't under his violent command:   they had their own motivations and ideas for taking action, like attempting to pay tax bills with fraudulent checks and filing false liens in their courthouses. Criminal, yes, but 'terrorist'?    Tarring any reaction against the growth and abuses of the state as violently racist makes as much sense as declaring at the Federal Reserve is a Zionist conspiracy to take over the world, or regarding every man on a motorcycle as a card-carrying member of the Mongols.

My interest in this book came from the hopes of gaining some insight into the militia mentality, but Levitas is more concerned with declaring that they exist, they're everywhere, and something oughta be done about `em.  Sure,  have the Federal government go after them -- that's worked so well so far. Levitas himself documents how militancy and paranoia flourished amid real or perceived persecution, spiking after Waco, Oklahoma City, and the Brady Bill. Obviously, going after armed people who already think the government is against them is a really swell idea that will lead to happy times for everyone.  At least the author of Harvest of Rage knew, as nutty as his subjects could be, at the root of their paranoia lay real despair and genuine concerns -- about their status as economic losers in a globalized world, or  the collusion of big agriculture, big banks, and big government. Their pain and fear was twisted by the Bill Gales of this world, but for Levitas anyone remotely connected to Gale is as bad as him.  This is an alarmist and dismissive account that will make those already predisposed to view grassroots reaction as ignorant, racist, and violent feel justified, but has little purpose beyond that  Its focus on the Comitatus has its uses, but as far as understanding right-wing militancy goes,  this is far inferior to Harvest of Rage.

Related:
Harvest of Rage, Joel Dyer

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